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Scientific Journal of King Faisal University (Humanities and Management Sciences)
Vol. 6 No.1 1426 (2005)
Grapheme-Phoneme Correlations
in Old English
Abdullah Mohammed Al-Watban
Department of English, College of Languages and Translation,
Al-Imam University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Abstract:
In this paper, the author provides a historical review of the
situation of orthography during the Old English period.
Throughout its course, English went through two stages in
developing its spelling system. The first is the use of the rune
letters, known as futharc which the Germanic tribes brought with
them when they arrived to Britain in the middle of the fifth
century. These runes were found carved on stones, war shields,
and tree trunks. The runic letter inventory included twenty nine
symbols representing consonants, vowels, and diphthongs.
Sound variations could not be determined due to the lack of
enough documented records of these letters. The other stage
marks the introduction of Latin spelling into English around the
end of the sixth century. As Old English developed its dialects,
variations in spelling, during this stage, have been documented
and reflected significant differences among that language
varieties. In addition, several letters, that were part of the old
system, disappeared as a result of the deletion of the sounds they
represented or their merger with other segments.
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Abdullah M. Al-Watban
Introduction
Very few people, including native speakers, are aware of several facts
about English orthography. One fact is that, contrary to the belief that
English alphabet has been derived from Latin, Old English used an old
Scandinavian writing system before Latin letters were borrowed around the
end of the sixth century. Another fact is that, English as an Indo-European
language, has been influenced by the Semitic languages in several ways.
Not only its numerals were taken from Arabic, its letters also have Semitic
roots, being a modified version of graphemes used in the Phoenician
language. In addition to these unknown pieces of information about Old
English, its dialectal variations were written during its time, and a lot of the
discrepancies between sounds and their written forms appearing in Modern
English are reflections of those differences found in that old language
varieties. In this paper, I will present a historical characterization of the
Old English orthography focusing on the phonemic inventory and its
corresponding orthographic representation.
Historical Background
The historical development of writing in English has been traced back to
the Middle East region where the Semitic tribes, the Phoenicians, lived
during the eleventh century BC. Leith (1997) and Williams (1975) note that
those Semites recognized the distinction between consonants and vowels as
the units forming the basic syllable structure of Phoenician. They invented
twenty two written representations for the sounds of their language.
Around the tenth century BC, the Greeks being close to the Phoenicians'
homeland in the northern Middle East, imported this writing system. They
adjusted it to fit their language pronunciations. They borrowed the
Phoenician consonantal graphs (symbols) that matched the consonants of
Greek without change. For the consonant symbols that existed in Phoenician
only, not Greek, the scribes used them to spell the Greek vowels. For
example, the Semitic symbol for the bilabial sound, which was called beth
in Phoenician, was used in Greek and was called beta1. The first letter of
the Semitic orthography (called тАЬalephтАЭ and used for the glottal stop
consonant) was not found in Greek. So the Greeks used its symbol to spell
1 See Appendix I for a complete list of the Phoenician symbols and their corresponding
Greek and Latin letters.
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Scientific Journal of King Faisal University (Humanities and Management Sciences)
Vol. 6 No.1 1426 (2005)
their vowel <╬▒> which is still being used and is called alpha.2
Partridge (1982) states that the adaptation of the Semitic writing system
was very efficient in Greek that other neighboring regions adopted it for
writing their sounds. It spread to southeast Europe and Italy during the time
of the Roman Empire. The Romans modified the symbols to match their
Latin pronunciation and spread it throughout their empire states, e.g. the
Slavs regions, Poland, Rumania, and others,
The system, as Paul (1997) reports, reached the Germanic tribes of
Scandinavia in northern Europe in the second or third century AD through
their contacts with cultures in northern Italy. The changes in the form and
in the order of the letters took place after the Germanics borrowed the Latin
letters. When they landed in the British Isles, they brought with them these
letters, which they called runes or secret writings.
This spelling system had limited use due to the literacy level of the
Germanic invaders and their descendants. The use of runes continued in
Britain until the arrival of Christianity at the end of the sixth century AD
when English began gradually to adopt the Latin letters used in the Christian
scriptures. Burchfield (1985) comments that Old English scribes, even
when Latin letters were borrowed, continued using some symbols from the
runic alphabet, e.g., < T > which was called тАЬthornтАЭ to represent the sound
[╬╕].
Later developments in the English orthography came from France
during the Middle English period after the Normans invaded Britain in the
twelfth century. Several letters that were used in the Old English period
were replaced by others from French, e.g., the <T> was substituted by the
digraph <th>3.
A relative stability in the English alphabetical system did not take place
until the invention of printing by William Caxton in the middle of the
fifteenth century. The noticeable inconsistencies or the lack of correlation
between letters and sounds found in Modern English are attributed to all
2 The angle brackets < > will be used for letters, and the square brackets for [ ] phonemes
3 A digraph is two letters representing one phoneme
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Abdullah M. Al-Watban
these historical developments. Some of the examples of spellings that do
not match modern pronunciations include the so-called silent letters as in
know and though where the consonant clusters of both kn- and -gh were
pronounceable in Old English. Few changes in pronunciation that happened
after the use of printing were accompanied by changes in spellings. These
included the modifications in vocalic spellings following the Great Vowel
Shift which resulted in the loss of all long vowels, leaving behind short
vowels and diphthongs. Consequently, length markings were dropped from
writing. The doubling of vowels found in modern words like book and cool
are indicative of that old vowel length.
III. The Runic alphabet
The earliest discovered runic letters date back to the fourth century AD.
Page (1973) examined as many as twenty four runic letters carved on stones
in Denmark representing the Gotlandish alphabet, one form of the
Scandinavian runic writings which resembled the letters found in the AngloSaxon runes. When the Scandinavian invaders arrived to Britain, the
majority of them were illiterate. However, their elites (leaders, chiefs, and
commanders), as Strang (1974) notes, were literate or familiar with the runic
writing symbols which was also called fu├░arc spelled as fuTArc. Each of
these six letters represented a word. For example, the <f> for the phoneme
[f] meant feoh "wealth", the <u > stood for the vowel [u] and meant ur
"aurochsтАЬ, etc.
The shapes of those letters were angular because they were carved or
scratched on hard surfaced objects like stones, shields, wood, etc. Few
runic manuscripts, however, were found written on leather or cloth.
Millward (1989) comments that the Modern English word тАЬbookтАЭ is derived
from the Old Germanic word b┼Нc which meant "beech treeтАЬ. This gives the
indication that wood or bark was a common writing object.
In England, the earliest runic scripts were found in East Anglia and Kent
around the middle of the sixth century AD. Page's (1973) investigation of
old runic writings estimates the total number of the authentic runic
inscriptions which were written during the early period of Old English to be
around thirty pieces. The most famous of all are the Rune Poem and The
Dream of the Road. The latter was found carved on a stone in
Dumfriesshire and was written in a Northumbrian Old English dialect. A
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Scientific Journal of King Faisal University (Humanities and Management Sciences)
Vol. 6 No.1 1426 (2005)
very recent discovery has been reported by Bill Mouland (2003) in the Daily
Mail newspaper in which a granite rock with carved runic letters was
unearthed at Gorleston near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk in Britain. This rock
has added a new document to the list of the historical records of this ancient
orthography and carried the message "this stone is for the people who
celebrate with fire" (p. 5). It has been examined and authenticated by the
archeologists from the Norfolk Archeological Service.
The runic writing, during the early Old English period, had limited uses,
and was confined to few ritual and literary practices. When England
converted to Christianity, those letters started to have a wider use with the
addition of religious discourses. The runes continued in writing Old English,
even when Latin alphabet was introduced, till the eleventh century (Hogg,
1994).
The early runic alphabet consisted of twenty four letters. This number
increased as the Germanic tribes (Angels, Saxons, and Jutes) developed
their own dialects which included Northumbrian, Mercian, West Saxon, and
Kentish. In the runes letter-inventory, there were eighteen symbols for the
consonants, eight for vowels, and three for diphthongs. With only thirty
well-documented runic texts (some were limited to few words), it was not
possible to identify whether the allophonic variations were also present in
the texts or not.
The Runic Symbols
f
T
rR
c
g
w
h
n
k
K
x
Phonetic Value
f
╬╕
r
c/k
g
w
h
n
j
p
x
Old English Word
feoh "wealth"
├╛orn "thorn"
r─Бd "road"
c─Уn "pine"
giefu "gift"
w─Уn "hope"
hagel "hail"
n─л─Уd "necessity"
g─У╬▒r "year"
peor├╛ "chessman"
eolh "elk"
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s
t
b
m
l
N
d
u
o
I
e
E
a
A
y
Z
j
q
s
t
b
m
l
┼Л
d
u
o
i
e
┼У
╬▒
├ж
y
eo
io
e╬▒
Abdullah M. Al-Watban
sigel "sun"
t─лr "glory"
beorc "birch"
m╬▒nn "person"
lagu "sea"
Ing "name of a god"
d├жg "day"
ur
"aurochs"
┼Нs
"god"
is
"ice"
eoh "war-horse"
─У├╛┼Уl "native land"
с╛▒c
"oak"
├жsc "ash"
яЯЖr
"bow"
─Уoh
"yew-tree"
─л┼Нr
"eel"
ear
"earth"
Instances of these orthographic characters can be illustrated from several
early documented Old English writings. One of these is taken from the
eleventh stanza of "The Rune Poem" (Millward, 1989, p. 77):
Is
is
304
byT
ofercqld
by├╛ o f e r c e╬▒ l d
"ice is very cold"
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Scientific Journal of King Faisal University (Humanities and Management Sciences)
Vol. 6 No.1 1426 (2005)
Another is taken from a stone in Hartlepool carrying the name Hild├╛ry├╛
written as hIldTryT (Burchfield, 1985, p.8).
The Latin Alphabet
The runic symbols, with the Christianization of England, began to lose
ground for the alphabet of Latin which was used by missionaries and
clergies sent from Rome.
Burchfield (1985) points out that the first attested Old English text
written in Latin was the C├жdmon's Hymn which appeared in 737 AD, and
was written in the Old English dialect of Northumbrian, one of the two
dialects representing the so-called Anglian Old English which included also
Mercian
At the onset of the use of Latin letters in English orthography, it was
restricted to few situations. Hogg (1994) writes:
That the letters of the alphabet and even the very style in which they
were written should be so dependent upon the arrival and spread of
Christianity is far from surprising. Throughout the Anglo-Saxon period the
teaching and to a considerable extent the practice of writing was
predominately a property of the church. It was in monasteries and their
scriptoria that instruction in reading and writing was carried out and scribes
were normally clerics. Even when the structure of government became
seriously developed, from the time of Alfred onwards, the scribes in the
king's secretariat were clerics not laymen (p. 73).
When the English clerical scribes started using the Latin alphabet, some
of the runes were borrowed into the new alphabet. In the famous epic
Beowulf, the runic letter E was used twice in the word ─У├╛┼Уl "native land".
The other borrowed symbols included T for the sound [╬╕] and w for [w].
These two symbols represented written forms for sounds found in Old
English not Latin (Hogg 1994, Scragg 1974, Williams 1975, Barber 2000,
Moffett 1992, Quirk & Wrenn.1994).
a. 1. The Vowels Spellings (Monophthongs)
The Old English letters representing the vowel system of the language
were drawn based on the phonemic contrasts identified in that system which
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included: tongue position (high, low, front, back); lip rounding (rounded,
spread); and quantity (short, long). The Old English scripts revealed eight
symbols representing orthographically these contrasts:
Symbol
<a/╬▒ >
<├ж>
<e>
<o>
<┼У/oe >
<u>
<i>
<y>
Phonetic Value
[╬▒]
[├ж]
[╬╡]
[╞Ж]
[├╢]
[ U]
[─к]
[y]
Brook (1958) notes that the long vowels involved a higher degree of
intensity compared to the short ones, and the Anglo-Saxon scribes were not
consistent in their marking of vowel length. It was shown by either
doubling the vowel or by a macron drawn over the vowel.
The high front rounded vowel spelled as <y> had been quite unstable
throughout the period. In some manuscripts (e.g., Beowulf, Cynewulf and
Cyneheard, and ├Жlfric's Life and of Saint Edmund, King and Martyr), it was
written interchangeably with both <ie> and <i>, e.g., scylid тАЬshieldтАЭ was
also written as scield and scild (Millward, 1989) . Some of these texts, in
fact, were written during the late Old English period, which makes it
plausible to assume that this represented a period of transition to Middle
English during which this vowel was losing its rounding feature and
merging with the vowel [i]. Toon (1992) adds that the front rounded vowel
disappeared from all dialects of Old English except in West Saxon before
disappearing for good by the middle of the eleventh century AD, when the
Normans came to England.
The letters <i> and < ─л > as in biddan тАЬto prayтАЭ and b─лdan тАЬto waitтАЭ
stood for the short and long high front unrounded vowels. These two did
not have variations in the Old English manuscripts, and they were
consistently found corresponding to the phonemes they represented. In
some texts, there were attestations of some instances where <i> was found
alternating with <g>. Quirk & Wrenn (1994) explains that the <g> was
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vocalized as an on-glide segment when occurring before front vowels. This
accounts for the interchange of <i> and <g> in words like, herges and heries
тАЬgen. sg. of hereтАЭ, and hergan and herian тАЬto praiseтАЭ.
The two letters <e> and <─У> as in eft тАЬagainтАЭ and ─Уst тАЬfavorтАЭ represented
both short and long mid front unrounded vowels. Like the high vowels,
they did not have written variations. The mid front rounded vowels were
written with either a single graph <┼У> or as a digraph <oe> with a micron
over the long vowels as <яЭ▒>. Barber (2000) notes that, unlike other letters,
these had existed in the early Old English manuscripts, mainly in the
Anglian texts written before 900 AD. These letters disappeared later, and
assumed to have merged with the other mid front unrounded vowels <e>
and <─У>. Williams (1975) reports instances of this merger like d┼Уman
тАЬdeemтАЭ which was found later as deman.
The short and long high back rounded vowels were spelled as <u> and
<┼л> as in ful тАЬfull" and f┼лl тАЭfoulтАЬ. The Modern English diphthong [├ж╩К] as
in тАЭfoundтАЬ and тАЭhouseтАЬ is derived from the long back vowel as part of the
Great Vowel Shift development.
The letters <o> and <┼Н> were used by the Old English scribes for the
short and long mid back rounded vowels respectively, e.g., god тАЬa godтАЭ and
g┼Нd тАЬgoodтАЭ. In some words, the <o> appeared as a variant of <╬▒> when the
latter was followed by a nasal sound. Quirk & Wrenn (1994) assume that
the nasals had a rounding influence on the low back vowel represented by
<╬▒>. For example, the words mann тАЬa manтАЭ and land were written
orthographically as monn and lond. There were, however, other words
where <╬▒> remained unchanged even when a nasal sound followed.
Millward (1989, p.79) cites instances of the <╬▒> which resisted the nasal
effect taken from the last line of the Old English poem Judith written in the
tenth century:
n╬▒nne on╩Тe├╛itloc╬▒n wi╩Т╩Тend
none in mind
warriors
stopon
stepped
The two symbols <├ж> and <╬▒> were used for the low front and back
vowels respectively. The old manuscripts show that the <╬▒> was also
written as <├ж> when the following syllable had a back vowel, compare d├жg
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"day, nominative singular" with d╬▒g╬▒s "days, nominative plural"; also
d├жges "day's" as opposed to d╬▒gum "days, dative plural". The low front
vowel spelled as <├ж> came originally from the Latin digraph <ae> which,
during the eighth century, was joined as <├ж> (Hogg 1994, and Toon 1983).
IV. a. 2. The Diphthongs Spellings:
The Anglo-Saxon scribes used digraphs to spell the Old English
diphthongs. At the early stages of this period, there were four digraphs
representing four diphthongs. These, like the single vowels, had short and
long forms: <e╬▒> <eo>, <io>, and <ie> which stood for the sounds [╬╡╔Щ],
[e╩К], [─к╩К], and [─к╔Щ] as in:
fe╬▒llan тАЬto fallтАЭ
eoh
тАЬhorseтАЭ
iorre тАЬangerтАЭ
giefan тАЬto giveтАЭ
sc─УяЬЗp тАЬsheepтАЭ
g─У┼Нmor тАЬsadтАЭ
l─л┼Нht
тАЬlightтАЭ
gel─л─Уfan тАЬto believeтАЭ
Toon (1983) indicates that the two diphthongs spelled as <e╬▒> and
<eo>, both short and long, were stable throughout the period compared to
the other two. The diphthong [─к╔Щ] written as <ie> was spelled later as <i>
through a process of smoothing resulting in a monophthong, so giefan came
to be written as gifan. The diphthong [─к╩К] written as <io> merged with
<eo> in its short and long forms, e.g. miox тАЬmanureтАЭ became meox; and
l─л┼Нht тАЬlightтАЭ became l─У┼Нht.
IV. b. The Consonants Spellings
The texts of Old English have revealed a letter-inventory of symbols
taken from the alphabets of both Latin and runes. These consisted of
nineteen symbols. There were no silent letters except for the cases of
digraphs. Consonantal length in Old English was phonemic and was
marked by the doubling of the letter representing the phoneme, e.g., l─Уtt
"take, 3rd person present indicative" and l─Уt "let, 3rd person preterit
indicative"; ful :"full, adj", and full "fully, adv."
The following eight letters stood for the same grapheme-phoneme
correspondences Modern English presently has: <p>, <b>, <d>, <t>, <m>,
<n>, <l>, and <w>. Barber (2000) points out that the letter <w> appeared in
Old English in a later stage, around the end of the seventh century AD. The
sound [w], on the other hand, used to be spelled with the doubling of <u> or
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with the runic letter < w > which was called тАЬwynnтАЭ as in triouu or triow
тАЬtreeтАЭ. The <n> stood for both [n] and the velar nasal [┼Л]. The latter variant
occurred before velar sounds, e.g., hr ─кng тАЬringтАЭ was pronounced as [hr─к┼Лg]
compared to Modern English [r─к┼Л].
The old English sounds [f], [g], and [r] were transcribed
orthographically as <╞Т>, <╩Т> and <╔г>. The letter < ╞Т > was the written
form of both the voiceless and voiced labiodental fricative sounds [f] and
[v]. The [v] was an allophone of [f] when it occurred medially before a
voiced sound (vowels or consonants) and was not doubled. So in h├ж╞Тt
тАЬhandleтАЭ and py╞Т╞Тan тАЬto puffтАЭ there was a [f], while in gie╞Тan тАЬto giveтАЭ and
hr ├жfn тАЬravenтАЭ, it was a [v]. A similar situation was found with the letter
<s> representing both [s] and [z]. The latter was an allophone of [s] when it
occurred in a voicing environment, e.g. sяЯ▓ тАЬseaтАЭ had a [s] and in nosu
"nose" there was a [z].
Old English used two symbols for the sound [╬╕] and its allophone [├░].
The first symbol was borrowed from the runic alphabet which was called
тАЬthornтАЭ and spelled as < T >. The other one was <├░> which was called
тАЬethтАЭ. Hogg (1994) comments that the letter <├░> was originally a <d> and
the scribes added a line crossing its top. Old texts have shown that the
Anglo-Saxons used the two symbols interchangeably. They did not
discriminate between the two in terms of position. Such interchangeability
is seen in Beowulf: in line 6 sy├░├░an тАЬsinceтАЭ; in line 132 sy├░Tan; in line 283
syT├░an; and in line 604 syTT an. The pattern of voicing [╬╕] to [├░] follows that
of [f] and [s] stated above. So [╬╕] was found in Tes тАЬthisтАЭ and moTTe тАЬmothтАЭ,
while [├░] appeared in ba Tian тАЬto batheтАЭ and f├жTm тАЬembraceтАЭ.
The letter <c> was used to spell the two sounds [k] and [╩з]. They were
not distinct phonemes though. [k] appeared when the following sound was
a back vowel or a consonant, as in cumbol тАЬbannerтАЭ and cniht тАЬboyтАЭ. The
[╩з] was used when the following segment was a front vowel, e.g., c─У─Б p
тАЬgoodsтАЭ and cild тАЬchildтАЭ. Some words in Old English may appear to violate
this pattern. For example cяЯ▓ g тАЬkeyтАЭ, Tancian тАЬto thankтАЭ, cynn тАЬkinтАЭ, and
c─Уl╬▒n тАЬto coolтАЭ. The <c> in all these words was pronounced as [k] even
though it was followed by a front vowel. Barber (2000) explains that during
the prehistoric Old English period, these vowels were originally back
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vowels and underwent fronting at the early Old English. However, the
original pronunciation of <c> as [k] remained unchanged obscuring the
velarization of <c>. So c─Уlan developed from pre Old English *c┼Нljan, and
cynn came from *cunni.
The <c> was also used in the digraph <sc> to spell the sound [тИл] in a
large number of Old English words, e.g., sceacul тАЬshackleтАЭ, sceoh тАЬshyтАЭ,
fisc тАЬfishтАЭ, and blyscan тАЬto blushтАЭ. There were few instances where the
sequence <sc> was pronounced as [sk], e.g., ascian тАЬto askтАЭ, and tusc
тАЬtooth" which were taken as exceptions..
It is worth noting that <c> in Old English had never stood for the sound
[s] as seen in Modern English. This development came in the Middle
English period under the influence of French as seen in words like city and
sincere.
The <g> was not used in Old English until the late stages of the period.
It was written as <╩Т>, a form borrowed from the Irish spelling (Quirk et. al.
1994). This <╩Т> represented three sounds. It was the velar stop [g] before
consonants and back vowels as in ╩Тnornian тАЬto mournтАЭ and ╩Т─Б t тАЬgoatтАЭ. It
was also used to spell the glide [j] when the following sound segment was a
front vowel, e.g., ╩Тefeol тАЬfellтАЭ, ╩Тif тАЬifтАЭ. Finally, it was the voiced velar
fricative [╬│] when occurring between two back vowels and was not doubled,
as in fu╩Тol тАЬbirdтАЭ and ─Б╩Тan тАЬto ownтАЭ. This letter was also used in the
digraph <cg> which spelled the affricate [╩д], e.g., ecg тАЭedgeтАЬ, brycg
тАЭbridgeтАЬ (Barber, 2000).
The letter <h>, like <c>, represented three sounds. At the word-initial
position, it was [h], e.g. hecg тАЬhedgeтАЭand hl┼лd тАЬloudтАЭ. When occurring
medially and after front vowels, it stood for the voiceless palatal fricative [├з]
as in niht тАЬnightтАЭ. This sound still exists in Scottish and other northern
British dialects. After back vowels, it was the voiceless velar fricative [x] in
words like fuht тАЬmoistтАЭ and dohtor тАЬdaughterтАЭ (Williams, 1975).
There were attestations of the letters <q>, <x>, and <z> in Old English
texts. These had few appearances though. Hogg (1994) states that <q> was
found in limited texts before the letter <u> and was pronounced as [kw],
e.g., qui├░a тАЬwombтАЭ. The letter <x> was used for the sound sequence of [ks]
recorded in words of foreign origin, e.g., ├жx тАЬaxeтАЭ. The <z> was rarely
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found in the Old English writing, and stood for the sounds [ts] and [dz].
Between two vowels, it was pronounced as [dz], e.g., b├жzere "baptist", and
elsewhere it was [ts], e.g. milze тАЬmercyтАЭ.
IV. c. The Dialectal Variations in Old English Orthography
Among the studies focusing on the textual analysis involving the interdialect variations of the Old English period are those done by philologists
like Fisiak (1987), Seebold (1992), Wakelin (1989), Lass (1994), and Toon
(1992). The majority of the texts were written in the West Saxon (WS)
variety which was the prominent variety and was the one used by King
Alfred's scribes (known as Alfredan writing).
The other varieties
Northumbrian (NM), Mercian (MN), and Kentish (KN) were also written,
but fewer texts were historically documented. Fisiak (1987) estimated the
number of non West Saxon records to be around seventy-two only. The
existing texts from all the four dialects have displayed significant spelling
variations especially with vowels. These can be illustrated in the following:
тАв
тАв
тАв
тАв
тАв
West Saxon short <├ж> was represented as a middle vowel spelled as
<e> in Mercian, e.g., (WS) f├жt тАЬvesselтАЬ was (MN) fet.
West Saxon long vowel <яЯ▓> was raised to a middle vowel too written
as <─У> in Northumbrian, Mercian, and Kentish, e.g., (WS) br яЯ▓con
тАЬbreakтАЭ was br ─Уcon in (NM), (MN), and (KN).
The West Saxon diphthong <e╬▒> was <╬▒> in Northumbrian and Mercian
when the diphthong was followed by two consonants, e.g., (WS) e╬▒ld
тАЬoldтАЭ was ╬▒ld in (NM) and (MN).
The short front mid vowel written as <e> of West Saxon and Kentish
was diphthonganized as [яЬ░] spelled as <eo> in Mercian and <ea> in
Northumbrian when the diphthong occurred in closed syllables, e.g.
(WS) setol тАЬseatтАЭ was seotul in (MN) and seatol in (NM).
The front rounded vowel written as <y> in West Saxon, Northumbrian,
and Mercian was unrounded and lowered to <e> in the southeast where
Kentish was spoken, e.g., yfel тАЬevilтАЭ in the three varieties and was efell
in (KN).
тАв
The long diphthong written as <─к─У> of West Saxon was
monophthonganized in the other varieties to a long vowel spelled as
<─У>, e.g. (WS) g─к─Уt "yet" was g─Уt in (NM), (MN), and (KN).
311
Grapheme-Phoneme Correlation In Old EnglishтАж
тАв
тАв
тАв
Abdullah M. Al-Watban
The letter <c> of Northumbrian was written as <h> before the letter <t>
in West Saxon, e.g. (NM) maecti тАЬmightтАЭ and dryctin тАЬlordтАЭ were mihte
and dryhten in (WS).
The letter <d> in Northumbrian was < T > in West Saxon when it
occurred intervocalically, e.g., (NM) modgidanc тАЬthoughtтАЭ was modeT
onc in (WS).
The West Saxons tend to convert fricatives to stops when they occurred
before liquids and nasals, e.g., (WS) wяЯ▓dla тАЬpoor manтАЭ and bytme
тАЬkeelтАЭ were wi├░lia and by├░ne in (NM) and (MN).
Without attested historical records, such dialectal variations were not
possible to identify and explain. The number of scribes as well as the wider
practices of writing gave the Latin letters the advantage over the runes
which had very limited uses. As a result, documents using Latin symbols
have enabled us to describe with details the writing situation of English in
that period, and have made it easier to identify the written symbols and the
sounds they represented. In addition, they have revealed to us the
environments where symbols displayed variations or multiple sound
representations. Such documents were lacking during the runes period.
Consequently, a detailed picture of the dialectal differences could not be
drawn.
Nevertheless, the available records have given us enough
understanding of the orthographic practices of the Anglo-Saxons when they
arrived to British Isles.
V. Conclusion
In sum, this historical investigation, not only has given insights into the
two stages of the Old English spelling development, but has revealed a
closer relation between English and the Semitic languages. Even though
there were two orthographic systems, the number of graphemes found
during the runes phase was similar to that of the alphabet of Latin, twenty
nine characters in both systems. This signals a relatively stable sound
situation during that period. The continuation of runes in the Old English
writing till the end of eleventh century, even when Latin was introduced,
may indicate that they had wider use than reported by historical linguists. As
for the Latin alphabet, the majority of the records which were written in the
West Saxon dialect have revealed more details about the graphemephoneme correspondences in Old English. The situation with the dialectal
variations, even with seventy two records, has shown fairly significant
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vowel differences found across those Old English varieties. Finally, more
discoveries of other records (in runes and in Latin) are needed to add to our
knowledge about the sound-letter correlations especially the variations
within the early Old English. Such discoveries would also give insights into
the purposes Anglo-Saxons used writing for. The message found on the
recently discovered rock at Norfolk, even with few words, has shown that
those tribes used writing for pagan rituals.
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Grapheme-Phoneme Correlation In Old EnglishтАж
Abdullah M. Al-Watban
APPENDIX I
Phoenician, Greek, and Latin letters
Copied from Robinson (1995, p. 170)
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References:
1.
2.
3.
4.
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6.
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17.
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